By Joseph Anderson

Xena, Gabrielle and Joxer belong to Renaissance Pictures. Buffy and friends belong to Joss Whedon and company. No copyright infringement is intended with this fan fiction, which may not be sold and must contain all notices of copyright.

Warning for language, sex and violence.


The weather was unpredictable, looking like it might rain but then it never did. The possibility was enough to put the travelers on edge. When the two warriors arrived in the town it was late afternoon. They left their horses with a stable. The old hostler wanted to ask their business but changed his mind. From the look of them he might not like the answer.

"He'll be in the tavern," the smaller said to her companion who nodded.

Xena and Gabrielle spotted Joxer at a table with some young locals. Joxer smiled and waved and Xena crooked a finger at him. Gabrielle was in red with a bare midriff and Xena wore her usual leather. He got up and clanked over to them in his ridiculous armor, helmet bobbing.

"Xena, you've gotta meet this girl..."

The Warrior Princess cut him off, "Not now, Joxer. Have you seen a warrior around here? A scary one?"

"Uh, Xena, this girl I started to tell you about. The blonde over there...."

"Dammit, Joxer! I don't have time for that. Now keep your eyes open for somebody called the Slayer. Keep your distance if you spot him and find me." Xena turned and left the inn. Gabrielle looked after her in surprise, not expecting such a fast exit. She prepared to follow when Joxer took her arm.

"Gabby, this girl, her name is Buffy and she..."

Gabrielle shook him off. "Not now, Joxer! We have to find the Slayer. The Fates warned Xena a terrible warrior was coming here. She's too young for you, anyway." Gabrielle was exasperated. When Joxer looked like he was going to argue she grabbed his nose.

"Let go of him."

The little blonde Joxer pointed at had come over. She was dressed like a village girl with style. Buffy was about 20 with a pretty face and lovely green eyes. She said, "I thought this was your friend."

Joxer said nasally, "Oh, it's okay."

"He doesn't mind," Gabrielle said but let go of his nose. Her and Joxer had history but she shouldn't treat him that way in front of strangers, especially some girl he might like. She patted his shoulder.

The other two villagers at Joxer's table walked up. A girl with red hair and an impish face wore a frown that made her look like an angry five-year-old. The male was dark haired and had a self-deprecating manner at odds with his powerful physique. He exclaimed, "I thought I didn't get any respect but...Jeez. Nobody's grabbing my nose like Shemp."

"I see you as more of a Curly, Xander," the red-haired girl said, her frown replaced with a knowing smile.

"Why thank you, Willow. Not Moe, huh?"

"Buffy is Moe. C'mon, get real."

"That'd make you Larry, Will. Are you ready for that kind of commitment?"

"Absolutely. I wear my Larrydom proudly."

Buffy said, "Enough already! Moe? Really?"

They were all startled by a loud growl and a fetid smell hit them.

"Phew!" Joxer exclaimed. Willow and Xander both made faces.

A large horned creature in crude leather and bulging with muscles stood in the doorway. The head and bare arms were scaly and warty. Gabrielle grabbed the matched sais from her boot sheaths as the other patrons scrambled out the back.

"Oh, nice knives," Buffy commented. "Too bad you're a bitch."

Gabrielle glanced at her in irritation. She'd straighten her out later.

"Slayer!" The monster rumbled.

Gabrielle looked around for the terrible warrior. Buffy stepped away from her. "Looking for me, stinky?"

Gabrielle stared at the slender young blonde. "You're the Slayer?"

"That's what I was trying to tell you," Joxer complained.

The towering creature growled at the small blonde. "Not your time."

Buffy said, "Front office sent me. Is smell a weapon for you? Cuz I've gotta tell you. It works."

"Make jokes. Mirella make jokes. Gashron make Slayer stew. Taste good."

Willow and Xander both muttered, "Uh-oh."

The small blonde girl quietly said, "You shouldn't have said that."

The demon stumbled forward, kicked from behind. Xena was standing there.

Buffy ordered sharply, "Stay out of this."

Xena was ready to fight the monster but stopped in surprise. Gabrielle waved to get her attention and silently mouthed "the Slayer" and pointed at the girl. Xena nodded. She grimaced and stepped back from the smell.

The demon whirled to face his attacker. When Xena held her hands up he snarled and turned back to the Slayer.

Buffy said, "How do I find Gashron?"

"Great One send me kill you, Slayer!"

The slender girl smiled but it didn't reach her eyes. "Just you? How many did it take for Mirella? Maybe Gashron got tired of holding his nose. Does he have a nose?"

The demon's eyes under a warty ridge looked uncertain for a moment but he made a snuffling sound and the glimmer of fear went away. "No. I kill you."

The Slayer said, "You're just a message he knows I'm here. Talk and you die quick. Otherwise you die slow...reeallly sloooww."

Gabrielle whispered to Xander, "She wouldn't really?"

"Sure she would," Xander said unconcernedly.

Willow shrugged and whispered, "Buffy's kinda tense. Boyfriend stuff. Men...who needs 'em? Like I have to tell you, right?"

The demon snuffled and charged the Slayer who deftly side stepped and backhanded him. He went crashing through a wall. Gabrielle caught Xena's eyes. No ordinary mortal was that strong. The monster snarled, picked a table up and hit the girl and she went flying to bounce off a wall. Xena pulled her sword but Buffy shook it off and caught the demon with a straight kick that flattened him. Buffy leapt on top of his wide chest and hit his face with a single bone-crunching blow. To Gabrielle it sounded like an axe hitting a tree trunk. The creature went limp and moaned. Xena sheathed her sword, watching the Slayer. Buffy wasn't even breathing hard. She wrapped a chain around the groggy creature that Xander had ready. Buffy leaned casually on one of the heavy horns curving up. The Slayer repeated, "How do I find Gashron, stinky?"

"Make you stew like Mirella!"

Buffy shrugged and brought a dainty foot down that snapped a forearm in half. The monster howled. Gabrielle looked at Xena. Buffy took a wooden stake from her pocket and circled it in front of the creature's eyes. "Fast or slow?"

"Stop it!" Xena grabbed the girl's shoulder.

"Oh boy," Willow said.

Buffy looked coolly at the bigger woman. "Move your hand."

Xena didn't let go. "Don't torture him."

"Fighting demons is what I do. Prophecy Girl, one chosen in all the world, yada yada yada." Buffy grabbed Xena's wrist. "Move your hand."

"Don't torture him."

The Slayer studied her a moment and then said, "Fine." She released Xena's wrist and Xena removed her hand. Buffy replaced the stake in her pocket and smiled at the demon. "Lucky you." She grabbed each of his horns and made a wrenching movement. Gabrielle jumped at the grinding crunch. The demon's head was turned completely around. After a few twitches he was motionless.

"Buffy?" Willow said.

The Slayer said curtly, "There'll be others." Buffy looked at Joxer. "Wanna come with?"

Joxer was confused for a moment then said, "No thanks." Buffy strolled out with her friends. The warrior and the bard looked at him.

"They're from the future, Xena. Here to do some important job. They just showed up," Joxer explained.

Xena asked, "Why you?"

Joxer took his helmet off and scratched his head. "They knew I helped you fight Bacchus. I dunno how. Buffy said bacchae are vamps dipped in olive oil."

"What's a vamp?" Gabrielle asked. Xena shrugged.

Joxer said to Xena, "She wanted to meet you."

Xena wearily said, "The Slayer probably wanted my help and I took a demon's side against her." She shook her head.

Gabrielle said, "It must be horrible where she's from. For her to be like that."

The Warrior Princess looked at the dead creature. Its stench was worsening and they all moved away from it. Xena said, "If Gashron hurts someone because I delayed the Slayer...."

Gabrielle sighed. "Doesn't anything ever change?"


Xander gestured with the chicken wing he held. "Xena! We met Xena and Gabrielle! Man!"

Buffy frowned. "She's a civilian. I thought she'd be on my side. She fought Bacchus and his proto-vamps."

Willow was juggling three rocks in the air. "She's not exactly a civilian. I mean Xena's a hero. She fights gods and stuff." Willow sneezed and the levitated rocks dropped. "Pardon me."

Xander said, "Uh-uh, Will. She fights human bad guys. The only god she fights is Ares but he's not really fighting her. He wants in her leather panties."

"You don't know that," Willow said indignantly. "Besides, didn't she fight some nasty Hindu god?"

Buffy interjected, "But she doesn't fight who I fight. That's the point. They're soulless pure evil but she thinks I'm the bad guy cuz I don't give 'em a chance." She picked a stone up and crushed it into powder letting it sift through her fingers. "Dumb old demon guy. Wish I had him right now to torture mercilessly."

"You don't mean that, Bufster," Xander said.

Buffy wiped her hands off. "Nah, I don't mean that. I shoulda got Gashron's lair out of him though. But I was fan girl. Did I hide it okay? I wasn't some dorky xenite?"

Xander said, "You looked ready to kill her. Yeah, I think you hid your fan worship pretty well."

"Xena knew I could snap her wrist like a twig but she didn't even blink. Just said 'Don't torture him.' She's awesome!"

Willow said, "I'll bet Xena is all 'Oh, I wonder if I did the right thing?' She's all broody and guilty'"

Buffy looked at her friend. "You can say the A word."

"Okay. She's like Angel...well except for having breasts, and not having a you know what, and the part about being alive. Oh, and when Angel was bad he was sorta a serial killer. Xena was all war criminally. Next to her Angel is small potatoes...miniscule potatoes."

"Must we discuss Angel's potatoes?" Xander complained.

"Not as vicious though," Buffy said quietly.

Xander and Willow caught each other's eyes. Xander said, "Maybe Gabrielle is soothing her savage warrior breasts this very moment in a hot tub. Did you see those Gab abs? Momma!"

"Yeah...." Willow said getting a slight smile.

"You two..." Buffy said dismissively. Xander and Willow looked guiltily at each other but winked.

Willow said, "Xena was watching you fight, checking out your bad slayer moves."

"You think?"

"Most definitely," Willow said with finality. "You can take her." She added defensively, "Not that I want you to fight or anything."

Buffy looked at Xander who was uncharacteristically quiet and thoughtful. "Xander, you're uncharacteristically quiet and thoughtful. What do you think?"

"Buffy, you and Giles are always training, right? Studying martial arts masters? Isn't that what she is?"

Buffy leaned back and covered her eyes with her hands. "There are whole schools founded by people who saw her fight once. Giles has a small library on her kicks alone. Never mind her chakram technique."

Willow said, "You're a superhero though, Buffy. With spidey strength and stuff."

Buffy sighed. "She's Michelle Yeoh to the hundredth power. But if I can land one punch not holding anything back. That oughta do it."

Willow said, "Hold on one gosh darned minute here. I was just being theoretical girl. You really might have to fight her?"

The blonde nodded. "She got in my way today. I can't let that happen again. I shouldn't have let it happen today, but I was like my mom meeting David Cassidy."

Xander said, "Good thing she didn't want a quickie."

Buffy and Willow stared at him. "Sorry..." he said sheepishly.

Buffy said, "I went over this with Giles. He was on the phone all week with Travers and the Watchers Council. I can do whatever it takes. It's not clear if I'm changing history or I'm part of history. I'm sposed to kick ass and not worry my pretty Slayer head about it."

Xander said, "Gashron is that bad?"

"He's from our time or maybe even the future. I don't think the Council even really knows. A second after Gashron cracked time this S.O.S. came through."

Willow made a distressed face. "Ooo...that sounds pretty darn bad."

Buffy said, "They let me bring you guys with minimal bitching. Travers wants to keep me happy. That tells you how important it is. The Council brewed up major mojo sending me to help the Slayer. Stinky said Mirella's dead. If she is...." Buffy shrugged.

Willow asked, "Whatever it takes?"

"Anything," Buffy said. "They'll square it with eternity...supposedly."

Xander held a hand up. "Lemme get this straight. Like 007? A license to kill?"

"From Sunnydale with love. I'm the girl with the golden stake."

Willow said a little apprehensively, "Poop-heads beware."


The water in the large wooden tub was steaming and came to midchest on the two occupants. Xena was pensive as Gabrielle placed Xena's left foot beside her ear to rest on her shoulder, and began scrubbing Xena's right foot. The big woman repositioned her spread legs as the blonde industriously worked.

"Xena, you did the right thing. You couldn't let her torture that...whatever it was. I can still smell it."

The naked Warrior Princess sighed as the blonde rhythmically rubbed her. "It's not like she was killing a centaur. I've heard rumors about somebody like that. My own fate brought me here to meet her."

"Since when do you believe in fate?" Gabrielle worked her fingers in between Xena's toes, tenderly slipping between the folds of wet flesh.

"I believe in fate. I just don't accept it. I bet the Fates decreed my fate to fight fate and it's even my fate to wonder if I'm serving fate."

Gabrielle looked at her. "You really think you're funny, don't you?"

"It's my fate." Xena smiled then spluttered as Gabrielle splashed her. "Hey!"

The blonde switched to Xena's other foot, her fingers wiggling and exploring every slick nook and fold. "What about Buffy, Xena? Is she a demigod?"

Xena got serious. "She's too short. Buffy is something though."

"She took out one clumsy demon. That's not so much. I mean if we're talking heroes."

"There was nothing clumsy about that demon. She just made him look clumsy."

Gabrielle frowned and lowered Xena's feet into the water. She rested her hands on Xena's widespread knees. "I coulda taken him."

Xena looked seriously at her. "If you see another one I want you to, first, run; second, find me or the Slayer."

"Xena, I'm a warrior now!"

"I know that and I know how good you are. I mean it. You see one of those things, you run the other way."

Xena moved behind Gabrielle who was unconvinced. The bigger woman started washing her friend's back. She reached around to where Gabrielle's breasts started to swell and kneaded the flesh with tantalizing fingers. Gabrielle sighed, "Okay, Xena. If I see another one, I'll find you."

"Or Buffy," Xena prodded, as she prodded Gabrielle's ribs with imperious digits.

"Xena, she called me a bitch! I don't want her saving me."

"What'd you do to Joxer?"

Gabrielle pouted. "What makes you think she'd help me?"

Xena smiled wryly, "She doesn't have to like you to save you. It's in the rule book." Underwater the warrior's strong hands slipped between Gabrielle's thighs.

"All right, I'll get Buffy," Gabrielle said as she half closed her eyes. "Xena, what about you? Can you beat her?"

"If I can avoid her."

The blonde turned in the water. "What do you mean avoid her?"

"I mean she can punch through walls. I'm a lot softer than a wall."

"Just put the pinch on her."

Xena said cynically, "She got hit in the head with a table and it didn't phase her. The pinch isn't gonna stop the Slayer."

"Xena, you're not scared of her?"

"I just haven't worked it out yet. We should be on the same side anyway."

"She didn't look very forgiving. Did you see what she was wearing?"

The dark woman began soaping Gabrielle's nipples that became erect. "I saw it. Caesar nailed me to one of those. She's in a war. I don't know why she backed down."

"Afraid of you?" Gabrielle suggested hopefully.

"She's not afraid of me. It was something else." Xena rinsed off Gabrielle's breasts with handfuls of water as she pondered that.

Gabrielle leaned her head back on Xena's shoulder and the Warrior Princess kissed her wet hair. Gabrielle said, "The red-haired girl, Willow, said something strange before you got there. Buffy had boyfriend trouble and men aren't worth it."

"What's strange about that?"

"No, Xena, the strange part was she said to me, 'like I have to tell you.'"

The dark woman drew the slippery body closer so her breasts were pressed against the smaller woman's back and their hips were joined. "Huh...what'd she mean by that?"

Gabrielle and Xena began moving rhythmically, churning the water. The blonde said, "I dunno. I mean I never had any problems with men...uuuuhh...I...uh...I loved Perdicus...and have...never...uh...gotten over him...oh gods...gods..."

Xena gasped out, "Maybe the...Slayer and some funny ideas...about us..."

"Like what?"

"...Oh Zeus...well, you know...two women...c'mon Gabrielle, you know..."

"That's ridiculous, Xena!...gods...gods...I just haven't met the right...gods...fella..."

"I know Gabrielle...I'm still in love with Marvin."


"Yeah...Marcus...the love of my life." Xena sniffled and Gabrielle squeezed her hand supportively. Then she squeezed tighter and their bodies tensed. Xena pulled Gabrielle tight and they began shuddering together as one. Their mouths were open and their eyes were squeezed shut. After a moment they went limp in the water. Xena looked at Gabrielle's red wet face. "Some people just can't understand a pure friendship. It's their loss."

Gabrielle couldn't speak at first but then said, "Yeah, that must be it, Xena. Minds in the gutter...what can you do?"


Gabrielle turned a corner by the stable and almost ran into somebody. "Excuse me."

"Oh no, it's my fault."

They stopped apologizing when they saw who it was. Gabrielle and Willow faced each other. The redhead looked apprehensive. "Oh, it's you." Then she smiled at the shorter blonde and buoyantly said, "How ya doin?"

"Fine," Gabrielle said carefully. "Where's the Slayer?"

Willow flipped her hands. "Oh, out slaying, you know. I'll bet Xena is doing something all heroic, too."

Gabrielle relaxed and smiled. "And here we are. Just a couple of sidekicks."

"Exactly...not that we aren't important. Sidekicks are plenty important, Mister!"

Gabrielle nodded. It was a good sign that the Slayer's friend didn't see her as an enemy. The way she spoke puzzled her a little.

"Listen, Willow, that was a big misunderstanding before. Xena and Buffy should be on the same side."

The redhead smiled. "Boy, am I glad to hear you say that! Buffy feels the same. If the Warrior Princess stays out of Buffy's way everything'll be hunky-dory."

Gabrielle furled her brow, "Hunky what?" Then she crossed her arms. "If anybody should be staying out of anybody's way it's the so-called Slayer."

"If it's not Nancy Reagan." Willow cocked her head and got a big frown. "Who am I to talk though? Vicarious power girl." She brightened up. "Hey, you wanna do something completely different? Then someday when we look back we can say 'We'll always have Paris'. Do you like to braid hair? Turn goats into frogs?"

Gabrielle growled, "What are you babbling about? Does Buffy know Xena's reputation?"

Willow's tentative smile was replaced with a scowl. She put her hands on her hips. "You try to be nice. Xena sure does have a the skankiest ho in the ancient world. Now she's doing community service. Big F'ing deal."

Gabrielle remembered having to teach Tara a lesson. She hoped it wouldn't come to that with Willow. "You don't want to mess with Xena and you don't want to mess with me."

"Oh, okay. What'll you do? Bore me to death with your stories? Stab me with your bootsy knives?" Willow raised her chin. "Maybe you don't wanna mess with me. Did you think of that?"

"I'll take that chance," Gabrielle sneered. The air suddenly seemed charged and the hair on her arms stood up. Then the tension disappeared. She must have imagined it.

Willow rolled her eyes. "No wonder we're the sidekicks." She looked back at Gabrielle. "What's the big X see in you? Oh, I know; you're a cunning linguist."

"And what is that supposed to mean?" Gabrielle demanded.

This time Willow sneered. "Just how much denial are you in?"

"You don't know what you're talking about."

"I don't, huh? You and the Warrior Butchness put the O in lesbo. I was all excited to meet you. What do I find? A mean dyke in the closet! Poop-head!"

The two women were glaring at each other when Xander and Joxer came walking up together.

"Hey guys, what's up?" Joxer asked.

Xander wagged a finger. "You two be discrete now. Don't want Xena getting the wrong idea."

"SHUT UP!" Willow and Gabrielle said in unison to Xander and Joxer respectively.

"Whoah!" they both said, stepping back.

"What's wrong, Will?" Xander asked.

Willow glared at Gabrielle again then looked at Xander. "Nothing's wrong. Sorry I yelled at you. C'mon."

"Gabby?" Joxer asked with concern.

"Nothing's wrong, Joxer. Let's go."

The two hero's best friends hauled their respective comic reliefs off in opposite directions.


Gabrielle found her friend to complain about Willow. Before she had a chance Xena said, "There are some bandits east of here. Last night they abducted a girl."

"What are we going to do, Xena?" Gabrielle asked.

The Warrior Princess whistled and Argo came walking up. "I'm gonna get her back. Keep an eye on things here."

"You don't want my help with the bandits?"

Xena looked at her. "Of course I do. But something important is happening. Gashron, whoever or whatever he is, sent that thing here to kill the Slayer."

"Okay, Xena. Sorry, I wasn't thinking."

The big woman grunted, jumped up on Argo and galloped out of the village.

The bard mockingly said, "I know you want to help, Gabrielle. Be careful. I'll be thinking of you." She turned and found Buffy standing behind her.

"Talk to yourself that way much?"

Gabrielle covered her embarrassment by saying, "I was practicing a speech for a scroll I'm writing."

"Yeah, sure. I heard a little. Somebody needs help?"

Gabrielle regretfully decided to be honest. "Yes...a girl was abducted. Xena is taking care of it."

The Slayer nodded and Gabrielle watched her walk away. Maybe they would make friends with Buffy and then kill her for the greater good. Not that they liked betraying people. It just seemed to work out like that a lot.

The Warrior Princess was lying on a hill studying the bandit camp. Xena estimated forty to fifty men. She heard a footstep and without looking said, "What are you doing here? Get down."

Buffy hunkered next to her. "Heard somebody needed rescuing. Long as I was in the neighborhood." She was carrying a battle-axe.

"How'd you get here?"

"Got a ride with Joxer. I gotta say you underestimate him."

"Really? Tell him to stay out of sight?"

"Sure, I did. Why?" Buffy said, "Oh." Below them Joxer was pushed into camp by a pair of beefy bandits.

Xena bit back what she was going to say. Instead she ordered, "Create a distraction. I'll get the girl and Joxer."

"That's it?"

Xena didn't like the tone. "You have a better plan?"

"What's the big? Put 'em out of business."

"Just like that? The two of us?"

"Sure. They're bad guys, right?"

Xena looked at the blonde who met her gaze. The dark warrior glanced at the axe.

Buffy exaggeratedly said, "I know. The direct approach is no fun. You like to trick 'em first. See the look in their eyes when it hits them. Then you KILL 'EM ALL!" She impersonated Xena for the last words and smiled.

"If that's what you think, I don't want your help."

The Slayer shrugged. "I'm not criticizing. Anyway, I thought you liked to mix stuff up; keep your juices flowing."

"How do you know that?"


"Is Television your god?" Xena asked.

"It sure is." Then Buffy asked, "Xena, there's a young girl with a buncha total dirtbags down there. Am I missing something here? You don't want my help?"

Xena was quiet and then growled, "All right, but I'm in charge."

"Fer sure. I mean like totally!"

Xena looked at the girl suspiciously but Buffy had an innocent expression.

The Warrior Princess grunted, stood up and started walking down the hill with Buffy beside her.

Joxer was tied up in a tent beside the abducted girl. She was crying and he told her not to worry. Xena and Buffy would rescue them soon. He started singing his song.

Joxer the Mighty,
He's real tidy.
Everyone admires him.
He's so handsome it's a sin.

"Please stop. If I'm going to die I don't want that as my last memory."

"Okay. Feel better?"

The girl rolled her eyes. Then she exclaimed, "You did that on purpose! I'm not so scared anymore."

"Who me?" Joxer said slyly.

There was yelling and Joxer heard Xena's war cry. "See, I told you!" Joxer importantly said, "Any second now...." The tent flap opened and a big bandit raised a sword to make good on their threats. "No, spare the girl!" Joxer cried. Then he saw something he'd remember the rest of his life. A small fist burst through the bandit's chest splattering them with blood. The bandit fell on his face and the Slayer came in shaking her hand off. She carried an axe and cut the ropes with a flashing blow that made Joxer wince and the girl squeal.

The blonde ordered, "Just sit tight."

Joxer was ashen faced and nodded. Another bandit appeared in the tent flap.

"You're sposed to knock." Buffy hurled the axe to imbed in his head. She strode out yanking the blade free with a wet sound. Joxer heard yells and more fighting...and Xena cursing at Buffy.

Xena was furious. Only a few bandits forced her to kill them. Not Buffy.

"Take prisoners!" Xena snarled as she broke a man's arm and hurled him into two other bandits.

Buffy yelled back, "I'm trying!" The blonde ordered, "Give up!" to a man coming for her. He didn't stop so Buffy lopped his head off with her axe. She looked at Xena. "See."

"Dammit!" Xena cursed. She kicked the sword out of a man's hand and hit a nerve to paralyze him. Then she knocked another man unconscious. She heard a scream ending in a wet gurgle come from Buffy's direction. Xena yelled, "Don't you know any nonkilling moves?"

"Not in the job description. Slayer...ya know?" Four bandits rushed the small blonde from different directions. She split one down the middle with the axe and kicked another caving his chest in. She grabbed his sword and impaled the third. The fourth leapt at her and she broke his neck with a punch. She shrugged at Xena then kicked a warrior rushing her. He flew twenty feet and was impaled on a tree branch. Xena gritted her teeth.

Joxer stood protectively with the girl. The fighting sounds stopped but he could still hear moans. After a few minutes they went to the tent flap and looked out. "Oh gods!" The girl said. Joxer gulped. They walked out into the desolate scene. About half the bandits looked groggy. Under Xena's watchful eye they were tying each other's hands. The rest were dead.

The Slayer wiped her bloody hands off on a cloak she tossed back on the corpse of its owner. She saw Joxer and the pale girl and looked around at the carnage. Buffy defensively said, "I usually fight monsters. Humans break way too easy."

Joxer said, "Uh...yeah...sure. That makes sense." He nervously looked at Xena who was listening grimly.

The Warrior Princess turned to the pretty bloody blonde. "They have another hundred slaves penned up ready for shipment. They told me because they're scared of you. Thanks Buffy."

The Slayer nodded. "No biggie."


There was crying coming from a room, not just ordinary crying, soul wrenching sobs. Gabrielle paused on the way to her and Xena's room. She walked a few steps further, stopped, and then went back and knocked on the door. The awful sobs became muted.

"Hello. Are you all right?" She knocked again. The door opened and Gabrielle saw a young woman with red eyes.

"What do you want? Leave me alone."

Gabrielle said, "If you tell me what's wrong maybe I can help."

"You can't."

"Try me."

The young woman grabbed her. "Fine! You want to see what's wrong? Look!" She pulled Gabrielle inside. There were five children huddled in the room. A man lay on the bed, deathly pale. Gabrielle carefully approached. "My husband is dying! He's dying! Are you satisfied?" The woman began sobbing again and sank to the floor. One of the children came over to put his arms around his mother.

Gabrielle said, "I'm sorry." She walked up to the bed. Her husband was a well-built young man. "Has he been like this long? A friend of mine is a healer."

The wife looked up at her. She answered, "A few days. He's been getting weaker and weaker. We have nothing to pay."

A couple of the children went to Gabrielle who put her arms around them. "Don't worry about that. Xena will come see him. I promise."

"Xena? The Warrior Princess?"

"She's an experienced healer." Gabrielle stepped closer to the man. "What are those marks on his neck?"

"I don't know! I don't know anything!"

Gabrielle bent to examine the two puncture wounds. A bacchae's bite. But that didn't make sense. There were no male bacchae and it wasn't like an illness. You were bit, you were a bacchae, end of tale. Bacchus had a new slave. Gabrielle straightened up and drew the children closer. She said to the little boy, "When did you eat last, honey?"

"Day before yesterday."

"Shhh!" His sister put a finger to her lips.

Their mother said, "It's all right." She looked at Gabrielle. "Can you really help us?"

"I'll get you all something to eat now. Come on."

"We aren't leaving my husband!"

Gabrielle said, "All right. I'll be right back with food." The bard quickly left the family. She didn't have any money with her and she wasn't quite sure how to accomplish this yet. She saw the Slayer's friend.


"Oh,, hi...yeah.." Xander fumbled with his hands and then giggled nervously. Gabrielle, friggin' GABRIELLE!

"Xander right?"

"Uh-huh, yes. Me that is. Xander is me."

"The Slayer helps people. Is that true?"

"Absolutely! She's a hero. She's The Hero. Well, maybe not here, I mean Xena and Hercules and all, but where I'm from she's The Hero."

Gabrielle nodded. "And you and Willow help I help Xena?"

"We're the sidekicks. No're more than just a sidekick, a lot more...not that I mean you and Xena...not that there's anything wrong if you do! But..."

With a massive effort of will Gabrielle refrained from grabbing his nose. She raised her hands emphatically. "There's a family close to starving. Do you have any money?"

Xander's face fell. "Uh, gee...I don't have anything. We just came to fight hell beasts...I mean, I'm sorry...maybe Buffy can...."

Gabrielle didn't answer and brushed past him. Xander looked after her..."I would if I had anything..."

"Thanks anyway." She spoke without looking back. He saw her start talking to a merchant. The man seemed annoyed but she smiled and actually batted her eyes and Xander knew the guy was done for.

"Way to go, Xander," he said softly. Then he said more forcefully, "Wait a minute. I am NOT this much of a loser!"

When Gabrielle returned to the inn it was past sunset. She saw Xander waiting. "Hey, can I still help out? I've got some dinars now. That's so cool...dinars!"

The bard said, "Of course. These people are in desperate need."

Xander smiled and handed her a small bag. Gabrielle poured the coins into her hand. "Not bad." She looked at the innkeeper. "I want a meal for the family upstairs and I want to pay for their next week of food and board." She handed him Xander's money and then took a similar bag of her own and gave the innkeeper all of it.

"Right away," the sour faced man said.

"Give me some bread and milk and bring the rest up when it is ready," Gabrielle said. She handed a jug to Xander and he followed her upstairs. "You're a good man." Xander blushed. Gabrielle asked, "How did you get the money?"

"I did some work for the miller. I'm a carpenter."

Gabrielle said, "Buffy mentioned vamps before. Are they like bacchae?"

"If bacchae are vile evil creatures of the night that prey on the living for blood."

Gabrielle smiled. "No, bacchae are dangerous but they aren't evil. They live for ecstasy and madness, and Bacchus of course. He's god of that like Aphrodite is goddess of love. It's part of life." She laughed slightly. "They don't hunt people for food. Gods." Her green eyes got a distant look. "I was a bacchae for a while..." She ran her tongue over her lips then looked embarrassed. "Sorry."

Xander blushed again and said, "Man, Giles is gonna love all this. Well, vampires ARE evil. They're parasites and that's all they are. None of this ecosystem stuff."

"Oh, I'm sure there's another side to it," Gabrielle said.

"No. There's not," Xander said simply.

She knocked on the door. Gabrielle said, "I wanna show you something. The reason I asked about vampires is this man has bites on his neck." She knocked again but there was no answer.

Xander looked at her. He stepped back and kicked the door in.

"What's wrong?" Gabrielle exclaimed as Xander rushed inside. "By the gods!"

The young mother was motionless on the floor. Her five children surrounded her, positioned like a suckling litter of kittens. The bard shook her head, "" She ran to the little boy and turned him over. His throat was ripped out.

Xander was checking the others. "Vamps....nothing like 'em."

They heard a moan. The young father was propped up in bed. He said weakly, "They.... took the youngest first and my wife last. She was begging the whole time... so was I... they laughed at us. Two of them." He looked wildly at Gabrielle and Xander then back at the bodies of his family. "They said they'd be back but I needed time alone with my loved ones." He started to sob.

Xander said, "We have to move him." Gabrielle nodded and they took him to the room she shared with Xena. Xander said, "You need garlic around the door and window." He looked at Gabrielle, "We have to tell Buffy about this. Are you all right?"

Gabrielle was putting a blanket over the weeping man. She said in a tight voice, "I'm all right."

Gabrielle watched the dark street as three horses came walking in. Xena was on Argo, Buffy was riding behind Joxer, and a girl was on the third horse. Xena looked grim and Joxer had a pale taut look. The girl seemed like a frightened bird. The Slayer looked at Gabrielle and slipped off the horse.

Joxer said, "I'll see you guys later." He didn't wait and rode off. Gabrielle looked after him and back at Xena whose eyes were shadowed.

"What is it?" Buffy said to Gabrielle. "You wanna tell me something, right?"

"Vampires. They're coming back."

Xena was surprised Gabrielle was telling Buffy and not her.

Buffy looked in Gabrielle's eyes. "Rude awakening time, huh? They'll know where Gashron is. Don't get in my way this time, Xena."

Xena said, "I'm not promising anything." Gabrielle touched her arm and shook her head.

The bard looked at Buffy. "Do whatever it takes."

Xena exclaimed, "Gabrielle! You don't mean that."

"Yes I do."

The two vampires climbed to the second floor window, grinning in the moonlight. They looked at each other and their faces changed to their demon masks. The male and female undead slipped quietly into the room. The female crooned, "Hubby...hubby...we're back like we said we'd be."

Her male consort snorted a laugh.

"Welcome home." A lamp flared and they saw a young blonde smiling at them. Another blonde stood behind her.

The vampires smiled back. "Who are you?"

"I'm T.S. and this is Gabby."

"What's T.S. stand for?" the male asked. The female rolled her eyes. What a dolt. She wished she hadn't sired him.

"T is for The. S is for Slayer."



Xena looked up at the window one more time.

Willow said, "She'll be okay. You saw Buffy fight. Gabrielle is tough too, right?"

Xena said, "Yeah." There was a scream from the room, followed by another, then another. "Stay here."

Xander said, "Gabrielle wants to do this with Buffy. You should respect that." Xena grabbed his collar. "Or not..." Xander said quickly.

Xena released him. "Sorry," she grunted and slapped his shoulder making him stagger.

Another scream came from the room, then two together. Xena glanced at Willow and Xander who looked unconcerned. It was the same look Gabrielle had when Xena tried to talk her out of this. Instead she took Xena to see the bodies.

The Warrior Princess looked out into the empty night and remembered the brutal rescue of the girl. "Joxer saw some things today he's not used to. Like Gabrielle." She looked at Xander.

He asked, "You and Buffy got that girl back. A big fight with mere human type baddies?"

"That's right."

Xander said to Willow. "Buffy doesn't get much of that. She's not big on restraint."

Willow nervously commented, "At least she's got that golden stake thingy."

Xander said, "And she's not about to waste it." Willow raised her eyebrows and pressed her lips together.

Xander looked back at Xena. "Know where Joxer is?"

"The next village. You can borrow Gabrielle's horse."

"That's okay. I need to walk off some of this fine bronze age cooking. Yum."

"You don't know how to ride do you?"

"For some reason that wasn't covered in driver's ed, Xena."

Buffy stood over the broken forms in the yellow lamplight. The husks made whimpering sounds. The Slayer said, "Too bad crucifixes don't work yet. Would've saved a lotta time."

Earlier Gabrielle helped Buffy subdue the vampires. When she pulled her sais, the Slayer said, "As if."

"I'm gonna help question them," Gabrielle said. A cold rage filled her as she looked at the creatures.

The chained vampires were listening fearfully.

Buffy put her hands on her hips and pursed her lips. "To avenge them?" She nodded toward the dead family.


The Slayer said, "This is my fate. It's not yours. Do this and you'll regret it; maybe not now but soon, and for the rest of your life."

Gabrielle looked down. After a moment she sheathed the sais. Then she whispered, "Thank you."

"No big."

Gashron must really be something. They were terrified to betray him, willing to die a vampire's death---Gashron would get them afterwards. "How?" Buffy asked. "No soul, not even a demon. You're gone, finito, kaput." They didn't know but they wouldn't give up his location. Gashron wasn't the only one who could make death seem easy though.

When she had what she needed, Buffy glanced at Gabrielle leaning against a wall watching. She was pale but she hadn't lost her lunch. Buffy set the tongs back in the coals and picked up a wooden stake. She rolled the male vampire over on his back. "Say hello to Mr. Pointy." With a quick strike he turned into dust. Buffy walked over to the female, paused, and looked at Gabrielle. The bard took the stake. Buffy pointed at the heart. The creature still managed to make a frightened sound as Gabrielle staked her.

Gabrielle handed the stake back to Buffy. "It's over."

The Slayer said, "No, I'm sorry, Gabrielle. It's not. Now we wait."

"For what?"

Buffy indicated the bodies of the mother and children.

Gabrielle softly said, "'re wrong."

"Wish I was."

Twenty minutes later the dead mother leapt up onto a stake held by the Slayer. Gabrielle stood over the five dead children and staked each the moment it changed, the small boy last.


The big dark woman tossed a crossbow to the small blonde. Buffy examined it critically and glanced at Willow and Gabrielle. "You two stay here."

Gabrielle's face began to get red. She opened her mouth but Xena said, "Stay here." Her face got even redder and she closed her mouth.

Buffy looked at Willow. "Try to get along, okay?"

Xena pointed a finger at Gabrielle and nodded.

"All right, Xena," Gabrielle mumbled ungraciously.

"No problemo," Willow said decisively. She put an arm around Gabrielle's shoulders. "We'll keep an eagle eye out." She made an eagle face.

The heroes nodded and departed to do heroic deeds. Gabrielle and Willow carefully disengaged.

Gabrielle said, "They've got enough on their minds."

"I know," Willow replied. Then she sighed, "You still all...grrr? I don't want you to be."

Gabrielle said, "I'm not mad."

"Well, as long as we're okay. I mean, we do the same job. Help fight the bad guys, best friend sympathy girl, schtick with the token male sidekick."

The bard had been listening closely. "That's disturbingly observant."

Willow grinned, "You're halfway to scoobydom. Was that so hard?"

Gabrielle smiled, "I guess not."

"Darn tootin'!"

The bard closed her eyes and took a breath.


The dank cavern echoed with their footsteps and the occasional small creature scurrying in the dark. Their torches created a flickering halo around the two women. Xena sensed something and looked back to see Buffy had stopped.

"What is it?" Xena asked but the Slayer didn't answer.

Buffy stood at a niche cut into the cave wall. Xena walked to her side and looked: A woman's head. Her face was badly battered. In the yellow uneven torchlight the eyelids seemed to flutter and the mouth almost twitched. Her long black hair showed ragged bald spots where it was yanked out. Roman earrings glittered and a necklace and pendant spilled out of her mouth. On the pendant Mithras slew the primeval bull. Buffy extracted the necklace and slipped it into a pocket. She drew her index finger down a cheek and then rubbed her finger and thumb together. Xena saw Buffy's mouth tighten. In front of the niche was a pile of bones that were clean like they had been stripped and boiled.

"This is Mirella. The Slayer."

"I'm sorry."

Buffy took a deep breath. "Necklace is a demon joke. Vamps woulda taken her jewelry."

Xena quietly said, "She was young."

Buffy shook her head. "Mirella was twenty-five. That's old."

"You expect to die like this?"

Buffy snorted, "Not if I can help it!" She shrugged her cloak off and covered the head. "Let's go."

The Warrior Princess pursued it. "But Slayers die young?"

Buffy looked at her. "Nothing says they have to."

"Do you know of any that didn't?"

Buffy didn't answer.

Xena said intensely, "Don't accept this! Fate, destiny, the chosen one...they're just words."

Buffy smoothed her clothes. "Been there, Xena. I made my choices years ago."

"You can still change your mind. Don't throw your life away. I know the gods. I'll get you out somehow."

The Slayer looked at Xena. The concern she saw shocked her. "Why do you care?"

"I just do. Walk away. Build a new life."

"Now? What about Gashron?"

"Leave Gashron to me."

Buffy was quiet. She glanced away and chewed her lower lip. Then she looked in Xena's intense blue eyes. "Pretty sure of yourself aren't you? Stupid question. You look at me and, what, see all the skinny girls you killed?"

Xena said, "That's right." She paused and said seriously, "I hate to see a wasted life."

"Wasted? Mirella took out two-thirds of Gashron's demons. We wouldn't be here now without that. Funny definition of wasted. You're the one tagging along. Thanks anyway."

They resumed their trek and began to see bodies in various stages of decay hanging from the walls. Muffled moans and screams started reaching them as they made their way deeper into the caves. Buffy said out of nowhere, "When Mirella was killed a new Slayer was called. She's out there somewhere...unready...untried. Maybe she doesn't know anything like Faith and me. Or maybe she was waiting like Kendra. Couple Slayers I knew."

"I thought there was only one?" Xena said.

"It's complicated. Coming back from the dead, junk like that. You know about that stuff."

"Oh yeah," Xena agreed wearily.

Xena looked at the slight girl carrying a torch, a sliver of light standing alone against the brutal savage darkness. Buffy thought twenty-five was old. "Some young girl is being bred up to be like your friend back there?"

"You're an amateur."

"I'm a what?"

"An amateur. You ride in, save the day and split when the real work is just getting started. The quote greater good goes out the window anytime you feel like it. I should abandon my responsibilities. Typical."

"I want to help you, Buffy. You're being used."

The blonde was carefully stepping over a skeleton. "You have authority issues big time. It's scary, considering."

"I'm atoning for my past," Xena said as she hopped over the bones.

Buffy smiled. "Not an iota of doubt. Wow. What's your body count since reforming? How bout your daughter's victims? You set her loose. Maybe Octavian tricked you into betraying Mark Antony. Not a chance of that, right, Xena? That Julius Caesar, big ol' softy; a naive kid is just who he'd leave Rome to."

"Did Television tell you all that?" Xena's voice had a threatening edge.

Buffy was unthreatened. "A Thanksgiving Day marathon." She added, "The Slayers were here long before you and I know for a fact we're there long after you. We just aren't famous."

"You think I want that?" Xena growled.

"You do travel with your own press agent." Buffy smiled cynically, "I'm sour grapes girl. Thanks for the concern, Xena. Really. I'm a big fan of yours."

"So I gather."

Buffy glanced back into the darkness. "Me and Mirella: We're one thing. You're something else. You work without a net."

Xena said, "Some net. Look at Mirella."

"Can't argue with that."

Xena didn't respond. They continued deeper into Gashron's demon lair. After a long silence Buffy said, "Willow and Gabrielle. What's that about?"

Xena said, "Just don't like each other. It happens."

"Maybe I had it wrong. I mean, when somebody bugs you THAT much it could be something else. You know?"

Xena grunted.

Buffy enthused, "It's inspiring to see how you trust Gabrielle. Willow was so excited to meet her: Admires her, thinks she's hot, all that. If I liked Willow that way I'd feel funny leaving 'em alone."

"Willow likes girls?" Xena asked.

"I thought you could spot each other."


Buffy poked Xena's arm good-naturedly. "Don't worry. Willow won't use magic. Bet it's tempting though. I mean, if I could just nail Brad Pitt, maybe make him think I'm that skank Jennifer Aniston."

"What are you saying? She's a witch?"

"Jennifer Aniston? She's not a witch. Come to think of it though, how'd she get Brad Pitt?"

"No, Willow. Willow is a witch?"

"You didn't know that either? Yeah, she's trying to cut back. Willow has been using magic to just get whatever she wants lately. She wouldn't do that though. Of course, if she did she'd just make Gabrielle forget it. No way to know. Shouldn't be long now before we meet demons to fight. These bodies look fresh. What do you think?"

"Did you say something?"


Gabrielle stood at the door watching the full moon and starry night. The inn's owner and the other guests had abandoned it after Xena told them it might not be safe. The dead family and vampires tortured to death were a good argument. Where was Joxer? She couldn't explain it but she was nervous being alone with the Slayer's friend. It was silly. Willow was harmless, irritating, and somebody she would probably end up rescuing before this was over...a female Joxer. That's all she was. Gabrielle muttered, "You're in the way except when I want you around." She closed the door and returned to the main room where she saw Willow.

"What are you doing?" Gabrielle asked. There were three candles on either side of the cold fireplace, carefully placed at exact intervals. The red-haired girl looked up at Gabrielle with that elfin smile and her face half in darkness. The flames danced in her eyes.

Willow had objects spread out before her on the floor. As Gabrielle watched, she took white and black stones and made a circle alternating light and dark.

"What are you doing?" Gabrielle asked more forcefully. She walked to stand over the kneeling girl who placed small animal bones inside the circle.

"Oh, just making myself useful." Willow reached into a pouch and brought out black sand. Holding it over the circle she let it trickle out of her fist. Willow began reciting words. "Entelo, Ontelo, Santelo... borgesti... rakemi..."

Gabrielle exclaimed, "You're casting a spell! You're a shaman! What is this? What will it do?"

Willow sat up straighter and smiled. "Shaman! Nobody ever called me that. Cool. I'm not so sure I am though. Think I'm just a run of the cauldron witch." She gestured at the fireplace. "Igniti." Flames filled the hearth.

"Stop it! Tell me what you're doing!"

"Entelo, Ontelo, Santelo...rakem, rakemi, borgesti!"

Willow frowned and said "barrier" as Gabrielle tried to kick the magic circle apart. There were sparks and the sensation of kicking a bale of hay. The magic circle was intact. Gabrielle tried to grab Willow and her hands produced another shower of sparks.

"Be paranoid why doncha? You're gonna wreck the spell," Willow said with irritation. She took sprigs of different plants and tossed them in the fire followed by a chicken foot. Purple smoke billowed out and fireflies rose from the circle to form a pulsating pattern. The witch looked up at Gabrielle again, "You're cute when you're mad. Bet Xena tells you that all the time."

Gabrielle felt dizzy. "What's happening? Willow, what are you doing?"

"Is the smoke bothering you?"

"What are you doing to me?"

"Trust me. You're my hero....well, my love-that-dare-not-speak-its-name sidekick role model. I bet you know Sappho. What's she like? Come on, you can tell me. Ever, you know, do her?"

"Stop it..." Gabrielle felt like she was floating. She saw Willow's face and then Xena's and then nothing.

When she woke up she had a fur wrapped around her.

"How do you feel?"

Gabrielle looked over and saw Willow. They were still in front of the fireplace. She sat up. "What happened?"

The girl took a kettle and poured it into a cup that she handed to her. Gabrielle smelled tea. Willow said, "Oh, you fainted. I guess it was the smoke. Some people are sensitive to magic that way."

Gabrielle let the fur fall away. "I remember now. You're a witch." She looked at the cup and set the tea down untouched.

Willow sipped her own tea. "Shaman sounded so cool. Oh well...back to witchy old Will."

Gabrielle said through clenched teeth, "What was that spell?"

The fire was getting low. Willow flicked her hand and it roared up again. She looked back at Gabrielle's pale tense face. "It was a revealing spell. Any invisible demons or people with demons in 'em, we're gonna see a big honkin' red D floating over their dumb demon heads."

"I told you to stop."

Willow shrugged. "Something bad coulda happened if that spell was interrupted. You want a rash of two-headed babies around here? I don't, thank you very much. Your tea is getting cold." Willow pointed at the cup and it began steaming.

Gabrielle pulled the fur around herself again. "Have you seen any demons?"

"Nope; which is good, I say."

"How much time passed?"

"Couple hours. I put the fur over you. Atavistic gestures make me feel all cozy."

Gabrielle said, "Nothing happened? I was just asleep?"

"Like what? Don'cha think I'd tell you?" Willow lazily smiled and leaned back. "We're on the same side here."

Gabrielle nodded uneasily and pulled the blanket more tightly around her. She picked her tea up.


"Joxer! My main man!"

The tavern was loud and crowded. Joxer wasn't hard to find. He'd been singing his song. Joxer had a flagon of wine half raised. He looked over and saw the boy who had been with the Slayer. "Xander! I was...uh...scouting for demons."

Xander sat down. "Pretty hairy scene today, huh?" Joxer didn't respond so Xander said in joking tone, "Scouting for demons in the bottom of a glass?"

Joxer sagely said, "You never know." He looked around craftily. "I'm throwing 'em off their guard." He touched the side of his nose and winked.

Xander realized Joxer was half in the bag. He didn't blame him. When Buffy was in full tilt Slayer mode you better have a strong stomach anyway. But these were humans she went Schwarzenegger on. Xena sent him in case Joxer needed to talk but that wasn't happening any time soon. He thought of that family but pushed it away. He'd talk about it with Anya when he got home.

"Jox, man. Really, haven't you had enough? I mean there's a Big Bad out there."

Joxer studied him under half closed eyes and took his helmet off to scratch his head. He put it on backwards and made a panicked sound. Xander turned it around for him. Joxer said, "You're right!" He unsteadily got up and struck a pose. "It's time for daring deeds. Follow me!"

"Now you're talking." Xander said trying to be enthusiastic.

"Let's go see Meg!"

Xander stopped. "Meg...Meg the...the uh..."

"She's a whore, Xander. A damned good one too. Meg's got a house around here. Good head on her shoulders. Speaking of good head..." He snickered.

"Uh, Jox...I dunno if right now is the best time. I mean the Big Bad..."

Joxer pushed Xander's shoulder and laughed. "Not for that! Meg might know something. Working girls hear all kinds of stuff."

Xander looked at him. "Like Mata Hari. That makes sense. It really does."

"Duh, that's the idea." Joxer squared his shoulders, began to march off, and fell on his face with crash. The tavern laughed.

Xander picked him up. Joxer smiled at him, completely unbothered and just continued on. Xander followed him. He had a pretty good idea what he was letting himself in for; a comic subplot while the real action was somewhere else. He sighed and followed the idiot, his role model.

On the outskirts of the village they found a friendly looking structure. Inside they were met with squeals of "Joxer! Look it's Joxer!"

"Ladies..." Joxer said suavely as he took his helmet off and tossed it aside. A couple of grinning girls in low cut blouses came up and he put his arms around their shoulders. "This is my warrior chum, Xander."

"Ooooh..." a buxom redhead said. She started to grind against him and Xander stepped back quickly.

" anyway!" He held his hands up.

Both whores were nibbling Joxer's ears. He glanced at Xander, "So Willow likes girls and you like boys?"


A brunette came sauntering up and shooed the girls off of Joxer, taking their place. "Sheep then? That's not really my thing here, though maybe I can work something out."

"No! I like girls...just not right now!" Xander was blushing. "I've got a girlfriend, Anya, a sexy thousand-year-old ex-demon I'll have you know, who worships my bod." He stopped at the disbelieving looks he was receiving. He changed the subject. "You really do look just like Xena."

Meg draped herself around Joxer. "Xener looks like me." She said, "I admit plenty of guys wanna be spanked by the Warrior Princess." Meg opened her eyes wide. "Big names too! I oughta write a scroll. The Meg Chronicles, how's about that? Gabby could ghost-bard it."

"She'll love to," Joxer murmured and nuzzled her cheek.

Xander said, "Listen, this is all well and good, but there's a Big Bad out there. The reason we came here..." He looked expectantly at Joxer.

Joxer said, "I'm getting to it. Keep your pants on. Not a question with you though is it?"

"Hey!" Xander said trying to look virile. The girls giggled and went back to congregate around Joxer.

"Want a freebie, Jox?...OWW!" A blonde held her head where Meg had swatted her.

Joxer said, "Let's talk alone." Meg nodded and led Joxer and Xander to a back room. Xander noticed the whips and paraphernalia on the walls and gulped. They sat at a table and Joxer said seriously, "Meg, you or your girls heard anything strange? Like about monsters or something?"

The madam scratched her head. "Lemme think. Essie said one of her johns had horns he was trying to hide. I figured 'yeah right.' He bragged about a buncha stuff, something about a Gashy..."

"Gashron?" Xander asked.

"Yup. Gonna destroy the world." She spoke in a mocking singsong.

"You didn't think that was important?" Xander exclaimed.

Meg said defensively, "You know how much bullshit my girls hear?"

"It's okay, Meg." Joxer said sweetly. "Poofters hate a sexy woman like you."

"Hey! I like sexy women just fine!" Xander exploded. "And that's not true either about.... Some of my best friends are poofters...I mean gay."

"I'll bet," Meg said. At Xander's expression she offered, "I can still find you a sheep."

Joxer and Meg disappeared upstairs. "Hero stuff to discuss," Joxer said. Xander nodded resignedly and tried to ignore the regular thumping sounds that soon came from the ceiling. He decided to wait outside and was leaning against a rail when he heard a pssst sound. He looked around. Hiding behind the side of the house was a short green figure with a pig snout and blunt horns running along the top of his baldhead.

Xander jumped back but the little demon held his hands up and said, "No! I wanna help!"

"Why? Why would you wanna help?" Xander demanded.

"This'll be just another hell dimension if Gashron has his way! Took me 700 years to get here! Bribes aren't cheap!"

Xander said, "There are corrupt border guards between dimensions?"

"Well, duh." The demon said sarcastically. He looked longingly at the whorehouse. "I love this world! I can look human a couple hours a day."

Xander said, "Like the ladies, huh?"

The demon nodded. "And not just to eat either!"

Xander groaned, "I thought you weren't hurting anybody!"

"I'm not."

Xander's face got red. The demon scratched his pointed ears with his tongue. Xander cringed.

"Meg is wonderful!" The demon sighed and held his claws over his heart. "Like an angel. I won't let Gashron harm her!"

Xander said, "Unrequited love. Got my sympathy, buddy."

"She tastes good, too. Especially at the end of a busy night."

"I didn't hear that." Xander closed his eyes but quickly opened them. "I'm never gonna get that picture out of my head now!" He shouted, "Stop that!" The demon was slicking down his eyebrows with his tongue. He looked up in surprise.

The little demon waited for Xander to stop shuddering and said, "Mirella slew many minions. Gashron has summoned a thousand times their number."

"Really?" Xander said seriously.

"The Slayer and Xena will be overpowered. The Great One will crush the heroes under their weight. Minions like grains of sand on a beach."

"Oh come on. The sand part...that's an exaggeration."

"Well, yeah. But there's a lot!" The demon said defensively. "There's enough!"

Xander asked, "Okay, I believe you. So how do we stop them?"

"I'll save you, Xander!" Joxer came rushing at them with his sword raised. The demon yelped and disappeared in a puff of smoke. The rushing man couldn't stop and tripped and went sliding on his face.

Xander grabbed him up. "He was about to tell me how to save Buffy and Xena!"

"Huh?" Joxer said, confused. "Uh-oh."

"Uh oh is right!" Xander said and let go. He yelled, "Come back!" Xander took a few steps and hollered again, "Come back!" He looked back at Joxer. "I'm sorry. You tried to help."

Joxer said, "But I didn't help did I? I messed it up."

Xander frowned and nodded. Meg came walking up and took Joxer's hand. They went walking back into the building. Xander looked around in frustration and then followed them.

Xander said decisively to Joxer and Meg, "Let's find Buffy and Xena. Tell 'em about this stuff."

"Okay," Joxer said subdued. Meg rubbed his back consolingly.

Meg had a wagon for supplies. She left one of her girls in charge and they hitched a mule up and headed back to the other village. The two men sat beside each other with Joxer holding the reins. Meg was sitting in the back on a sack of grain.

"Xena will know what to do," Joxer said worriedly.

"Or Buffy," Xander echoed.

Meg rolled her eyes but didn't say anything. She heard a voice softly whisper, "What a pair of weenies. You and bout it?" She felt something wet creeping under her skirt.

"SHIT!" Meg exploded in anger.

Xander and Joxer twisted around to see Meg standing up in the wagon holding something long and pink and slick. The little demon was held off the ground by his prehensile tongue.

"What in Hades is this thing?" Meg spat out. She angrily shook her hand, swinging the hanging demon.


"Oh yeah?" Meg sneered and shook him more.

Xander leapt into the back of the wagon. "Stop it, Meg. He's on our side."

"What's his tongue sneaking up my wazoo for? Huh?"

"He likes you," Xander offered lamely. The little green demon nodded as well as he could considering he was held off the wagon bed by his tongue.

Joxer stopped the wagon. "That's who I saw earlier. Let him go, Meg."

With a harrumph she dropped the small green horned figure that coughed and gagged a moment then stuffed his tongue back in his mouth with his fingers. He looked adoringly up at Meg. "My angel!"

Meg looked angry but perplexed. "Your what? Hey, you sound kinda familiar."

Xander quickly said, "Never mind that. How do we stop Gashron's minions?"

"Yeah!" Joxer said threateningly then slipped and fell on his ass.

The small green demon managed to tear his eyes off of the confused Meg and looked at Xander. "The witch can do it."

"All right! Saddle up! Lock and load! " The others looked blankly at Xander. "Uh, we should hurry."

Joxer got back in the seat and started the mule forward. Xander stayed in the back with Meg and the demon, not liking how the little creature kept staring at her.

Meg said, "You got a name? Huh?"

The demon was ecstatic. "I'm Ashcroft. My celestial honeypot! My quivering quim of golden goodness!"

"Shut up about my pussy, Ashcroft!" Meg glared at him and pointed angrily.

Ashcroft nudged Xander to whisper to him. Xander said, "You better not say anything about Meg."

"You tell him!" Meg said and punched the air.

"It's not, I promise."

Xander leaned down. The demon whispered, "How does Willow's cunt taste?" Then he licked the side of Xander's face.

"Eeeeewww!" Xander elbowed the demon in the head.

"Just asking...don't have to get physical about it!" Ashcroft whined.

"What's that?" Willow asked, sitting up from the cushions she was sunk into.

"A wagon," Gabrielle answered. She got to her feet door just as the door opened and four figures rushed in. One was a small green demon. "Gods!" She reached for her sais.

Joxer said, "It's okay, Gabby. This is Ashcroft. He's helping us."

Willow had come up. "Xena?"

Meg grinned. "Fooled ya, Red!"

Xander said, "This is Meg."

"Oh, Meg...nice to...uh...hi!" Willow stammered and blushed.

Xander said, "Will, Gashron is getting reinforcements but you can stop it."

"I can? Oh, sure, I can. Uh, how I can?"

"We need a witch." Joxer said.

The small demon slicked his eyebrows down with his tongue again and said, "The heroes are fighting right now. Gashron has summoned minions from the hell dimension that spawned him numerous as....there's a bunch of 'em. A spell can close the gate for a time." Ashcroft paused and said, "The heroes still must face the Great One. I had to try though." He looked adoringly at Meg.

Gabrielle grabbed the little demon roughly. "Where's Xena? I have to help her!"

The demon whined, "There's no time."

Willow briskly said, "This is the best way to help her." She bent down to look in Ashcroft's face. "I'll know if the spell does something else." The demon stiffened in fear.

Meg took Joxer's arm. Gabrielle felt a chill and a cat hissed outside the window. Xander gave Willow a nervous thumbs up sign.


The sudden silence was startling. Xena was breathing hard and gripping her blood-drenched sword tightly. She carefully looked around. The stench was overpowering, dead demons mixing with human carcasses hung from hooks on the ceiling and walls. The Slayer's slender form stood amid a pile of corpses. Buffy lowered the gore-encrusted battle-axe. There was a high-pitched whine and a liquid appearing vortex opened up in a far wall. They saw a demon army that extended far in the distance. It was charging at them.

"Not good," Buffy said.

"No, it's not." Xena agreed.

"By magicks powerful, dark and light,"

The vortex took on a distorted lopsided look.

"Will?" Buffy said looking around for the echoing voice.

"Close this portal of loathsome fright."

Sounds like thunder came out of the vortex.

"Take this innocent life in flood.
Accept this kiss of mother's blood."

Screams were coming from the vortex now.

"Hecate, Hermes, Alti, Hope,
Bind shut this gate with mystic rope!"

A single spear emerged in slow motion to land harmlessly. The vortex disappeared with a sound like a stone dropped in a pond.

They were quiet, then Buffy said, "Willow did what she had to."

Xena nodded. No matter what happened with Gashron it wasn't over for Willow and Gabrielle. It was just beginning.

Both heroes turned to the huge stone door with an embossed pulsating symbol: The sign of Gashron. Buffy was shaking. Xena knew it wasn't fear.

"Don't act from hate, Buffy. Not now."

"Did I ask for your advice?"

"Buffy, you called me an amateur. Prove to me what a Slayer is."

The blonde was staring at the crawling living sign. She looked over at Xena. "You don't know demons like I do...Mirella's head...they were using it...I could tell."

"She was dead," Xena said quietly.

"Maybe. I hope so."

The Warrior Princess said, "Don't make this about vengeance. Once you start down that path it's hard to let go of. Leave Gashron to me."

"What difference does it make?"

"Gabrielle told me what you said. You know it makes a difference." Xena laid a hand on Buffy's shoulder.

"Move your hand," Buffy hissed. "And stay out of my way!"

The slender blonde jogged to the far end of the hall. Still gripping the axe, she came running back as a blur and hit the stone door. Xena covered her eyes from the flying shattered rock.

Huge snarling chimeras breathing fire were chained to each wall between ancient statues of devils. At the end of the room was a massive throne of intricate stonework. Bronze youths held torches aloft on either side. Their fearful expressions showed they weren't always made of metal. A lone oddly dressed figure sat waiting. Buffy strode forward and stopped before the throne. Xena was watchful.

The Slayer stared at the Great One. "You."

Xena said, "An enemy from your past?"

"Never knew he was my enemy."

Xena nodded. Been there.

Buffy asked, "How many times did I save you, Jonathan?"

"Uh...yeah...I can didn't see an army of minions by any chance did you?"

The Slayer dropped her axe with a clang. "It was all an act. Did the Mayor serve you?"

"About there are extenuating circumstances...this army, you can't miss it..."

"Forget the army."

"Easy for you to say," he whined.

"Jonathan, I'd love to hear your extenuating circumstances. Except I'm gonna rip your heart out now."

"Buffy! No, wait! I didn't want any of this! A spell went that other time. Nobody was meant to get hurt. Lemme explain!"

Xena watched the Slayer roughly grab the baby faced young man off the throne. He looked at Buffy with a scared smile. Buffy gripped Jonathan by his bad haircut. Instead of twisting his head off, the Slayer looked disgusted and said, "Talk, Jonathan. Explain it to me. It better be good."

The Warrior Princess said, "Buffy..."

The Slayer looked over, "What, Xena?"

Buffy barely heard the whoosh as the chakram cut Jonathan's head from his pudgy body. "Yuck!" She dropped both and stepped back. Flames shot from Jonathan's eyes and mouth. The body grabbed the head and reattached it. Jonathan wagged a finger at Xena. He got on his hands and knees and started growing, ripping through his Babylon-5 T-shirt, K-Mart brand jeans and Keds tennis shoes. Horns sprang from his head with a tearing sound, his jaw protruded and Jonathan's limbs became massive muscled legs ending in hooves. Sleek white fur covered the rippling powerful form as it continued to grow. The chest was wide and deep and the testicles and phallus were huge. The demonic bull looked at the Slayer and snorted. Jonathan's transparent face appeared in front of his true form.

"I fucked your mom's mind, Buffy. That's why Joyce had a stroke. I thought you should know."

Buffy hurled her axe through the apparition. The weapon bounced harmlessly off the animal's wide forehead. Jonathan laughed and the face disappeared. The chamber echoed with the bull's bellow.

Xena leapt at the creature. Gold tipped horns threw her into one of the stone devils. It shivered like it was alive and Xena avoiding a grasping stone claw. The Slayer kicked Gashron in the head and attacked the bull with the axe again with no effect. She barely avoided getting gored and his hot breath scorched her hair.

The Warrior Princess muttered, "Dammit." She slashed her own forearm and smeared the blood on her palm. Xena held her hand outstretched and whispered a name. Then she yelled to Buffy, "Mirella's necklace! Put it on!"

Gashron's eyes were glowing like coals and he doubled in size again. Buffy slipped the necklace over her head. Jonathan's face reappeared. "No!" Buffy caught the sword Xena threw to her. The Great One pawed the floor making the ground shake. Buffy leapt on his back but was thrown off. She began to glow with a golden light and jumped back on the monster. She grabbed the bull's nostrils and grimacing with effort pulled the great head up exposing the throat. The Warrior Princess saw a ghostly presence with Buffy: Mirella. The Slayers drove the shimmering sword into the bull's throat with an explosion of smoking blood. The stone devils screamed. Jonathan's agonized face exploded into a thousand ectoplasmic shards.

"Something to be said for a net," Xena said.

The tableau seemed frozen in time. In a flash of bright light the brutal bloody scene was gone. In its place a beautiful young man in Persian clothes was slaying an elegant stylized bull. His fluttering cloak contained the heavens. Mithras looked at Xena and she saw the sun and moon in his eyes. The light became blinding for an instant. When Xena could see again Buffy was standing over a naked crumpled form.

"Thanks." Buffy tossed Xena her sword.

"Any time."

The Slayer asked, "Why didn't he help Mirella before?"

Xena looked away. "We have.... history."

"You and Mithras?"

"That's right."

"Ten years ago?" Buffy asked.

"I was just using him back then. I'm not proud of it."

Buffy was quiet for moment. Then she retrieved her axe. She studied Jonathan's pathetic corpse and then methodically hacked it to pieces. She tipped the bronze youths over setting Gashron on fire with the oil from their torches. She looked at Xena. "I'm done."

Xena didn't say anything. Buffy wiped the splattered blood from her face and said, "He has to be destroyed completely. I learned that the hard way. It's not just vengeance."

"All right."

Buffy said, "Some of it is vengeance."

Xena quietly said, "I know."

The Slayer said with irritation. "I just wanted to hear him out."

Xena said, "I couldn't risk him seducing you."

Buffy said, "Uh-huh...when Gabrielle writes it all up, will I even be in it?" She laughed as Xena's face reddened.

They were silent as they retraced their steps, past the stone devils that crumbled to dust, the chained beasts that died with Gashron, and through the carnage in the antechamber, leaving Jonathan's hell on earth behind. In the caverns, Buffy retrieved Mirella's remains as Xena looked away, embarrassed.

The crackling fire was the only sound. They were waiting either for Xena and Buffy to return or the end of the world. Joxer looked at Gabrielle staring into the fireplace, her hand bandaged. He glanced at Willow leaning against Xander, exhausted. The pentagram on the floor was mutely accusing.

If Joxer felt dirty how did Gabby feel? He and Meg, Xander and the little demon joined hands to make a small circle standing over the pentagram. Then Willow ducked inside it followed by Gabby carrying a terrified struggling lamb. Both were naked. Joxer remembered Willow's eyes glittering like black stones. A small hoof hit his chest and Meg was spattered with blood when Willow slashed the lamb's throat. She caught the blood in a cup and the witch began reciting the spell.

"By magicks powerful, dark and light,
Close this portal of loathsome fright."

Gabby held the bleating thrashing animal. When Willow had enough its blood ran over Gabby's hands and down her stomach and thighs. She dropped the carcass and Willow took Gabby's left hand, cut it and caught her blood in the same vessel. Joxer felt ill as Willow raised the cup to her mouth and drank and then passed it to Gabby who did the same.

"Take this innocent life in flood.
Accept this kiss of mother's blood."

Willow leaned forward and kissed Gabby. They were both flushed and their mouths were smeared red when they finished.

"Hecate, Hermes, Alti, Hope,
Bind shut this gate with mystic rope!"

Nothing happened. Willow said in an embarrassed voice, "Okay. That's all." Her eyes were normal and downcast.

The circle released each other's hands and self-consciously stepped back. Joxer took the dead animal and carried it outside. Gabby wouldn't meet his eyes. When he returned Willow and Gabrielle had washed the blood off as well as they could and were pulling their clothes back on. Joxer looked away. He wished he hadn't seen this. No one spoke and they all sat down to wait. Xander looked even more uncomfortable than he was. Finally Willow went to sit beside Xander. She touched his hand tentatively. He put his arm around her and she leaned her head on his shoulder.

"Joxer." It was Gabby. She had been watching them too.

"Yeah," he said nervously, looking at her.

"Thanks for helping." Then Gabby looked back in the fire, thinking about, what? Hope, the hell goddess daughter she was petitioning for a favor? Sorry about killing you those times, honey. Alti? Xena? Willow and which of them had more to be ashamed of? Joxer didn't ask.

The little green pig-snouted demon jumped up. The humans looked wary but he said, "Time to go." Ashcroft acted like he was gonna hug Meg but she stopped him with an outstretched arm. He whined, "But I saved the world for you!"

Meg looked guilty. She said, "Yeah, okay, little fella. I guess maybe you did." She prepared to shake hands with him. Ashcroft's tongue shot out and up her dress. "FUCK!" Meg grabbed the pink muscle with both hands and pulled it out of her kinky-winky.


"Save it, asshole!" Meg cursed. "Open the door, Jox!" She began spinning Ashcroft around her head by his tongue and let go sending him flying out the open door. They heard him land with a crash. Meg turned away from the door wiping her hands off on her dress.

A voice came out of the darkness, "You're my angel!"

"Men!" Meg said.

"Tell me about it," Willow and Gabrielle said together.


The man had an amphora and a wine bowl in front of him. His graying hair was disheveled and he hadn't shaved in weeks. He blearily looked up as someone sat down across from him. He frowned and looked around the tavern. A few other people were hanging back watching them. With a grunt he looked back at his uninvited companion.

"What?" he demanded. "What? What?" He brought his unsteady hand down on the table. It spilled the bowl of wine. He refilled it from the amphora and gulped it down.

"I understand, Philetor."

"Yes, so what?" He glared at her then he covered his eyes with his dirty hands. She reached out and put a hand on his shoulder.

"I brought her out. I buried her."

Philetor looked up and studied her with wild eyes. "Gashron and his minions....made her into stew....did things...."

"Those are just demon stories. You believe 'em? None of that happened."


Buffy nodded. "I promise. C'mon, Gashron had better things to do. He was on a schedule. Philetor, her spirit came back. We destroyed him together."

He stared at his drink. "Sounds like her."

"I didn't know what rites to perform. Now she needs you, Philetor."

He straightened up at the words and wiped his eyes. "That could be a problem. She was Mithraic." At her expression he explained, "Only initiates know the rites. Mostly Roman soldiers and they don't accept females. I asked her 'Why this?' It's a cult one step above Christianism."

Buffy took the necklace from her pocket and held the pendant.

"Mithras, Lord of Light. That's it."

She offered him the necklace and he accepted it with a trembling hand.

"Thought of herself as a soldier?" Buffy guessed.

"I suppose." He looked back at Buffy. "Your aura is wrong. You don't belong here."

"That's right."

"Are you from the past or the future?"

"Future. You're a smart guy. I bet you're a good Watcher; one reason she lasted so long. How old was Mirella when she was called?"

"Fifteen. I found her at the harvest festival, this young girl with flowers in her hair. Mirella thought I was crazy and her brothers chased me off. I had to convince her." His voice broke and Philetor covered his face with his hands. "I knew she couldn't defeat Gashron. There were just too many. Mirella knew it too. She made a joke and went in. The council had a secret plan, some arcane plot I couldn't be told. We had to weaken Gashron, kill as many as we could." He gave a bitter laugh. "We. I mean Mirella of course." He poured more wine and drank it down. "They brought you."

Buffy nodded. "Get another Slayer. That was their big plan."

He made a disgusted sound. "The best minds labored over this ingenious scheme. Pompous asses."

Buffy said, "That hasn't changed." She lowered her head so she could look in the man's eyes. "I understand. So did Mirella."

The man composed himself and stood up. "We should get on with it. I know a Roman garrison with a mithraeum. I'll get their help somehow. Can you take me to her?"

Buffy rose. "Okay." She gestured to her companions. Willow and Xander approached. The Watcher looked curiously at them. Buffy said, "These are my friends."

"A Slayer shouldn't have..."

"Don't you start with me."

Willow slipped her arm through Xander's and looked at Buffy. "Ruby slipper time? There's no place like home."

"Just a sec."

Buffy walked down the street and stopped in front of a young villager who looked ready to bolt. "You've been following me."

The girl looked around nervously. "What do you mean?"

"Yesterday I spotted you four times. Today, twice."

The girl looked down. "This creepy man said some weird stuff to me. Then I saw you." She made vague gestures. "I had to...I dunno..."


"Yeah. He looks like a drunk."

"Philetor is pretty shook up. He'll be okay when he goes back to work." Buffy asked, "What's your name?"


"I'm Buffy. Anybody call you Penny?"

"No. And what kind of stupid name is Buffy?"

"How old are you?"

"Sixteen. I'll be married in the spring. I've been saving a dowry."

Buffy couldn't look in her eyes. "Congratulations."

The girl's face got red. "If he lives that long."

"What do you mean, Penny?"

The teenager was close to tears. "There's a sickness. People are dying. Haven't you heard?"

"I've been busy. Are they pale like they've lost blood?"

"Yes," the girl said and shuddered.

The Slayer placed something in the girl's hand.

"What's this?" She looked at the wooden stake.

"It's Mr. Pointy. Good luck. I'll look you up in the annals." She hugged the teenager and returned to her waiting friends. When the girl turned away they simply disappeared.

Xena, Gabrielle and Joxer were watching from the inn. Gabrielle said, "That must be the new Slayer."

Xena said, "Yep."

"She's cute," Joxer said. "Oww!"

"I just said she was cute," he whined as Gabrielle released his nose.

"She's too young. You shouldn't even be thinking that," the bard scolded. Gabrielle looked at her friend. "Are you gonna talk to her, Xena?"

A tall older man approached her. The girl started to leave but paused. He handed her something. She shrugged and slipped the necklace on. They walked off talking.

Xena said, "No. I don't have all the answers."

Gabrielle and Joxer both fell down. Xena looked at them. "Very funny." She hauled her smirking sidekicks up.

The bard said, "What about Mithras?"

"I'm seeing him later tonight."

Gabrielle didn't say anything. Xena looked at her. "Just to thank him. That's all."

The bard walked away and Xena followed her. "Ah, c'mon, Gabrielle. Don't be like that!"

Joxer scratched his head and trailed along behind.